Examination of Witnesses (Questions 300
TUESDAY 3 FEBRUARY 1998
MORRIS QC AND
300. Do you think there is a case to follow
the Australian example with their Privileges Act 1987?
(Mr Morris) The Australian example has certain attractions.
I have had a look at the Act which is pertinent. That again is
not exhaustive. I understand it was passed because of doubts expressed
in the New South Wales courts and certain judgments which were
carried out there. I find it very surprising, having seen the
Canberra Parliament in action, that they were concerned about
the number of complaints and the vehemence of the complaints,
critical or defamatory, of Parliament. I find that perhaps curious,
to say the least, given the strong language that is used in the
Australian and indeed in the State Parliaments. However, there
it is, that is the law as it is. First of all, Mr Michie, it is
not a complete codification. For example, it does not purport
to set out what conduct amounts to contempt, and nor does the
Act exhaustively define what Parliament's privileges are. Section
5 simply says that of all Parliament's existing powers, privileges
and immunities are to continue unless the Act expressly provides
otherwise. Arguably it might be said that it does not carry the
case very much further forward. On certain other matters it is
very precise; it lays down the maximum period of imprisonment
of six months, it lays down that Parliament can fine, it actually
defines proceedings in Parliament, and as regards contemptI
have already dealt with thatit does not. It also deals
with the power to expel a Member, and that is done away with in
accordance with the Act, as I understand it. Then it has some
detailed provision regarding the exercise of its powers of what
should be done and what should not be done. It is not exhaustive.
It is an attempt. With respect, I would not suggest that the Committee
might want slavishly to follow that model. Perhaps it might want
to decide what should be in the code, as opposed to this particular
Act which is precise on some matters and is as vague as ours on
Lord Mayhew of Twysden
301. It is very tough indeed in its code, is
it not? I am afraid it is several weeks since I have read it,
but it is much less indulgent than our own code of practice, is
that not right?
(Mr Morris) Yes.
302. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned
there when we are considering whether there should be some offence
of briberyLord Merlyn-Rees's point reallyand whether
there is anything left beyond what is made improper by a code
in our system. There is more than a distinction simply of nomenclature,
is there not, between a fine and depriving a Member of salary
when he is suspended? The discipline or the sanction at the moment
is to suspend somebody from the service of the House, is it not?
(Mr Morris) Yes.
303. So he does not get his pay while that is
going on. That is one thing. It is surely rather different in
substance, is it not, to have a jurisdiction to fine? Would the
House of Commons be really in any position to carry out the sort
of investigations which the courts have to do, and indeed do do,
in order to determine the personal circumstances and so forth?
Is that really something which the House of Commons or, come to
that, the House of Lords, is really in a position to do in practice?
(Mr Morris) I would think not. Before one has a penalty
of any kind against a member of the public who is not a Member,
one has to carry the public with one as regards natural justice
and proper procedures. I do not think we come within 100 miles
of wanting that, and I think that Parliament would not be excited
about that kind of proposal, indeed, with our own Members. You
rightly say, Lord Mayhew, that suspension perhaps is the biggest
thing; that it is not necessarily the loss of pay, which is significant
in itself, but the very fact that you cannot serve your constituents,
and the damage it can do. I would be the first to appreciate the
regard in which members are heldor not, as the case may
beby constituents. If you are not there to serve them,
that probably is the biggest penalty for a Member.
304. Thank you very much. The Committee is very
grateful to you, Mr Attorney General, for your assistance and
the assistance of Mr Jones this morning. We look forward to your
further assistance with the written memorandum which has been
mentioned, both on the particular points which we had mentioned
and indeed on anything else which, on reflection, you think might
assist the Committee.
(Mr Morris) Thank you very much indeed.
Chairman: Thank you.